21 June 1999

Press Release



Committee and Government Delegation Take Up Issues Related To Rights of Unborn Children, Health-Education Programmes, Women's Studies

Ireland's Constitution protected the life of the unborn child, Chris Fitzgerald, of that country's Department of Health and Children, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon, as it continued discussing Ireland's second and third reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In December 1997, a Cabinet committee had overseen preparation of a green paper -- a discussion document -- to reflect the various legal, moral and health issues involved, taking into consideration the views of various parties. That document was under consideration, he said in response to questions posed by the 23-member expert body regarding Ireland's abortion laws.

One Committee expert urged the Government to expand family services so women would not have to seek abortion. That would be in line with the recommendations and action plan of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. Secular health-education programmes, including information on pregnancy, should be introduced in all secondary schools.

Many women in Ireland travelled outside the country to terminate unwanted pregnancies, she continued. Female asylum seekers, however, were left with no recourse, since they were not allowed to leave the country. That policy should be considered as part of Ireland's review of its abortion laws. Another expert said that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ireland had had an active women's studies community, which had been influential in institutionalizing women's studies in universities throughout Europe. The cursory treatment of the subject in the report implied a lack of interest by

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1143 441st Meeting (PM) 21 June 1999

the State. Yet women's studies were essential in Ireland, where stereotypes continued to play formative roles in work and family life.

Responding to the Committee's comments, Bernard McDonagh, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, said that traditional attitudes and stereotypes were the main obstacles in implementing policies and initiatives. Financing and finding trained personnel to implement the policies were among the other difficulties. Change would take time, particularly in the area of equality and employment, he stressed.

Maureen Bohan, Senior Inspector/Psychologist, Department of Education and Science, added that despite initiatives to raise awareness in the area of education, results had been slow and disappointing. A recent study had shown that considerable stereotyped attitudes continued among boys, men and older women.

Vera Kelly, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Tim Quirke, Department of Social Family and Community Affairs, also spoke this afternoon.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to consider the situation of women in Chile, taking up that country's combined second and third reports on efforts to comply with the Women's Rights Convention.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 2 - Press Release WOM/1143 441st Meeting (PM) 21 June 1999

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to begin its consideration of the second and third periodic reports of Ireland (document CEDAW/C/IRL/2-3), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For further background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1142 issued today.)

Experts Comments and Questions

With regard to women's political participation, an expert noted that most political parties had adopted different quota systems or measures to improve the political participation of women in electoral lists and representation in Parliament. She wanted to know whether the local elections scheduled for June had already taken place and, if so, what the results were. Also, what was the representation of women on those lists. Had all the political parties presented women on their lists for the European Parliament elections last week? she asked. If the political parties had adopted quotas, she continued, why had the State structure not adopted temporary special measures?

She noted that Ireland had a stable parliamentary system of Government with both an upper and lower house. There were 20 women in the lower house and 11 in the Senate. She asked whether parliamentarians formed lobbies and if so, on what issues. Had any of them tried to lobby for changing the abortion law? She also noted that women's participation in trade unions was remarkable.

The Electoral Act of 1997 mentioned the public funding of political parties and stated that part of that funding should be allotted to women's campaigns. She wanted to know how the political parties ensured that those funds were directed to the campaigns of women candidates.

Another expert raised the issue of the enforcement of the Convention and why its provisions had not been incorporated into Irish law. The Government had said that the rights contained in the Convention were fundamental rights and it was inappropriate to incorporate them into Irish law through simple legislation. It also stated that domestic tribunals might not take the same interpretation of the Convention that the Committee did. Once Ireland ratified the Optional Protocol, complaints must exhaust all domestic channels before being addressed to the Committee.

She asked whether the proposal made by the Review Group on the Constitution that the Constitution be amended to ensure no direct or indirect discrimination had been introduced and, if not, when it would be introduced. That would be an important first step, even if the Government could not introduce all the Convention's provisions into Irish law. She also asked when that proposal had been made, and whether the Group had disbanded since then? Also, would it be the appropriate body to address the incorporation of the Convention into the Irish Constitution?

With regard to the recently proposed Human Rights Commission, she asked how it would fit into the overall scheme of implementing human rights in Ireland? Would disputes be brought before the courts or would the Commission have its own tribunal? It must be ensured that the Commission contained women of appropriate qualifications. The Government appeared to have an inadequate number of women judges. If not enough women were qualified to join the judiciary, then not many of them would be qualified to be on the Commission. What was the appointment process for the judiciary? It was critically important that more women be introduced into the judiciary and adequately educated. There were many ways of ensuring that the judiciary understood the difficulties of women and vulnerable groups, particularly with regard to violence in the family.

An expert cautioned that the impact of Ireland's various laudable efforts was not yet known. Despite the creation of a national committee and regional committees to combat sexual violence, as well as a proposed national strategy to raise public awareness, Ireland lacked a mechanism to gather statistical information on family violence. The numbers provided by police statistics were lower than those from women's support systems. The next report should contain more data.

The 1995 law on judicial assistance in civil affairs aimed to provide legal counsel to women who met certain conditions -- but what conditions? she asked. The report did not indicate how many women asked for legal assistance in cases of marital violence or sexual harassment. Did socio-cultural barriers prevent such requests, or did it have to do with ignorance of the law? She then expressed concern about the situation of elderly women and those in rural populations, who seemed to suffer more discrimination.

A Committee member asked about higher education. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ireland had had an active women's studies community, which had been influential in international circles and had played a leading role in Europe regarding institutionalizing women's studies in universities. It was therefore odd that little information had been presented on the current state of women's studies in Ireland. The cursory treatment of the subject implied that the State was not interested in the issue. Yet women's studies were essential wherever stereotypes persisted or, as in the case of Ireland, wherever stereotypes continued to play formative roles in work and family life. How many universities offered degree programmes in women's studies?

Were gender and women's studies courses integrated as conventional components of social sciences, history and other disciplines?

The report also lacked information on the condition of women in academia, she continued. In what fields and disciplines were women faculty working, and in what numbers? Were female and male academics paid the same?

Another Committee member commended governmental programmes to improve women's health. However, she noted with concern that women sometimes had to wait for the results of some cancer screening tests for up to six months. Given the nature of the disease, that was too long. With Ireland's booming economy, adequate resources should be allocated to State-run hospitals so a woman would not have to wait six months to get results for pap smear tests, for example.

Ireland's breastfeeding programmes were important, she said. But were pregnant and lactating women being informed about the newly discovered possibility of HIV/AIDS transmission through breastfeeding?

On terminating pregnancies, she said that female asylum seekers seemed to be doubly disadvantaged. Many women in Ireland travelled outside the country to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but female asylum seekers were not allowed to leave the country, so they were left with no recourse. That policy should be considered as part of the country's review of the abortion laws.

Ireland was taking the recommendations and action plan of the Cairo Conference seriously; she hoped it would consider the fact that those documents requested that governments expand family services so women would not have to seek abortion. Welcoming a programme to create awareness and educate people, she said she hoped it would include adolescents. Secular education programmes should be introduced in all secondary schools, especially regarding health issues, including those related to pregnancy and the implications of early pregnancy. The next report should include data on illegal abortion, which had been lacking in the current one.

With regard to trafficking in women and girls, an expert wanted to know whether the situation in Ireland was different from other countries. She also noted that there was a low rate of women entering fields of technology and engineering. While the Government had plans to increase the number of women entering non-traditional areas, more efforts were needed. How were women preparing themselves for the age of high technology and information? she asked. Also, had there been any consultation with non-governmental organizations and women's groups when the current report was being made?

Government's Responses

BERNARD MCDONAGH, Second Secretary, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, said that the biggest difficulty in implementing policies were attitudes and changing them. Financing and getting trained personnel to implement the policies were among the other difficulties. Change would take time, particularly in the area of equality and employment. Forty per cent of the Irish labour force were women. While virtually all women in the 20-30 and 30-40 age groups worked, there was a sharp decline in the 50 and older age group. The effect of legislative changes working through the labour statistics over the years could be seen. The funds provided by the European Community would end within a five-year period and then would be replaced by funds from the Irish Exchequer.

With regard to disadvantaged groups, he said that Ireland had a population of 3.6 million. There were 7,000 asylum seekers and 5,000 Travellers -- people of a nomadic lifestyle, like gypsies. Migrants did not constitute a significant portion of the population, and often worked in multinational industries and in the restaurant business. They did not work in domestic service. The combined vulnerable groups came to less than 1 per cent of the female population.

Turning to childcare provision, he said that a recent survey on national childcare strategy found that Ireland had 146,000 childcare facilities. The problems of childcare were exacerbated by the changes and rise in women's employment, and the reduction of women who were taking care of children in their own homes.

While Ireland had no provisions for quotas, it did have provisions for positive action and setting targets, he said. Equality audits would be conducted and targets would be set in various sectors.

Regarding political life, he said that Ireland had two parties in Government. The Prime Minister was the Head of Government and the leader of the largest party. Currently, the Deputy Prime Minister was a woman and the leader of the smaller party was a woman. Decisions were made by consensus. The local elections had taken place 10 days ago at the same time as the European Parliament elections. Overall, 16.2 per cent of the candidates had been women. Fourteen per cent of them had been successful, which was down from 14.8 per cent from the previous period. Irish political parties had a proportional representation system, which was different from the European list system. All parties, except one, had run women candidates. The biggest party did not have women candidates, but all the others did.

Ireland's draft report on its compliance had been circulated among the National Council on Women and various non-governmental organizations (NGO), he said. The responses to questions were Government responses, which had also been circulated to NGOs. In addition, two meetings had been held with NGOs to discuss preparations for the presentation of the report to the Committee.

He said that trafficking in women was not a major problem in Ireland. There was a relatively small amount of movement, mainly from its next-door neighbour and not a significant amount from other countries. Ireland's sexual offences legislation targeted child sex tourists and organizers of sex tourism.

Regarding the proposed changes to the Irish Constitution, he said that the Review Group set up in 1995 had published a number of reports, which had then been referred to the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution. Given that the Constitution had been written in the 1930s, there had been a proposal that it would benefit from being rewritten in gender-neutral language.

MAUREEN BOHAN, Senior Inspector/Psychologist, Department of Education and Science, said that the Department published a statistical report every year containing data disaggregated by sex. With regard to difficulties in implementing initiatives, the major obstacle in the area of education was traditional and stereotyped attitudes. Despite initiatives to raise awareness, the results had been slow and disappointing. A recent study had shown that considerable stereotyped attitudes continued among boys, men and older women. Another obstacle was the "crowded curriculum". Students aged 12 to 15 had 12 subjects to study. At the senior level, they had nine subjects. It was difficult to try to fit initiatives into that crowded curriculum. The objective of the Transition Year Initiative, between junior and senior levels, was to give students time to develop their personal and social skills.

Turning to sexual harassment in schools, she said that teachers' unions had guidelines to deal with the sexual harassment of teachers in schools. School authorities, in conjunction with the unions, had developed a school policy to deal with harassment of students by other students. They were exploring a masculinities initiative, which would focus exclusively on boys and challenge traditional macho values, as well as ideas of the ideal male. That initiative would also deal with the issue of violence, and include violence between men and against women. It would also deal with sexual harassment and the issue of sharing responsibilities.

Regarding the review of textbooks, she said that publishers had to comply with the Department's guidelines in order to be included on its list of textbooks and teaching materials. That was the case for the primary level. At the secondary level, it was more difficult because of the amount of subjects to be dealt with.

Currently, five universities had women's studies centres, she said. Those centres had carried out considerable research, which had impacted other areas of education. Some universities awarded diplomas in women's studies. The number of women in academia at the higher education level was still of concern. There was no difference in the salaries of male and female academics.

TIM QUIRKE, Principal Officer, Department of Social Family and Community Affairs, said that the number of people in poverty had move from between 9 and 15 per cent in 1994 to between 7 and 10 per cent in 1997, but no breakdown by gender was available. From 1994 to 1997, more women had entered paid employment and would thus escape the poverty net. A single parent scheme had been introduced by which basic income support payments would be made if paid income did not exceed 6,000 pounds per year. On the subject of pensions for women in the home, he said that generally pensions were for those with paid employment. Social insurance pensions were currently being reviewed, with particular consideration of coverage for women in the home.

VERA KELLY, Principal Officer, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, answered questions about discrimination against married women in employment. The Act of 1998 had introduced improvements to the Employment Act of 1997. The statutory minimum wage was not to be introduced until 2000 because the Government was waiting for the expiration of Partnership 2000 -- a partnership between government, employers and trade-unions on issues including wage levels, which had been reached before it entered office.

On sexual harassment, she said the 1998 Employment Equality Act had defined it for the first time in Irish law, and had outlawed it. An employer could be held liable by clients, employees or business contacts for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, and that could include a code of practice.

Ireland recognized the need to address the limited availability of disaggregated statistics, and had already begun to do so, she said. Guidelines were being drawn up relating to the national development plan for 2000-2006 -- including on gender statistics -- emphasizing consultation with groups that could often address the statistics deficits.

CHRIS FITZGERALD, Principal Officer, Department of Health and Children, said Ireland's Constitution protected the life of the unborn child. In December 1997, a Cabinet committee had overseen preparation of a green paper - - a discussion document -- to reflect the various legal, moral and health issues involved, taking into consideration the views of various parties. On delays in health-test results, he said recently increased investments had allowed for additional staff. The target now was one month for turn-around.

Mr. MCDONAUGH, Second Secretary, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, said the Constitution was not inconsistent with the Convention. While it contained no provision regarding gender equality, it did have general equality provisions, such as Article 41, on equality before the law, and Article 40.31 on personal rights, which had been instrumental in identifying and establishing gender equality rights. The constitutional review group had proposed an amendment regarding gender equality, which would be considered, but that was not a prerequisite to fully implementing the Convention.

The Government had introduced unpaid parental leave after discussions between social partners, trade unions and employers, he said. However, the matter would be raised again. Ireland was not ruling out for all time the non-payment of parental leave.

On child abuse, health boards had the statistics, as they investigated the charges, he said. Unfortunately, that data was not disaggregated. A group had been set up by the Government to consider ways to eliminate child abuse and treat victims and abusers. It was beginning its work and by the time of the next report, disaggregated statistics should be available. Regarding compiling information on time use, such surveys were costly and demanding. The Government would consider future action in consultation with the social partners.

The statistics in the report on legal aid dealt with civil legal aid, in relation to women seeking civil redress, he said. For such assistance, qualifications were largely based on income and expenses. Most women who sought civil aid were entitled to legal aid, and were accorded priority on waiting lists. Regarding domestic violence, the charging was done by the police and it was handled in the normal way in the courts, with people facing the full penalty. Female victims were generally not given civil legal aid in those cases, as they would not be party to civil court action.

Concluding Comments

An expert said the delegation's concrete answers had enabled a constructive dialogue. With the country's many legislative and policy measures, Ireland and Irish women would move forward in the years ahead. She hoped some solution would be found to the problem of abortion and the difficulties encountered to implementing the Convention. While the problem of attitudes would take longer to do away with, she hoped Ireland would be more successful in dealing with the problem so that the younger generation -- girls and particularly boys -- would have changed attitudes for facing the new millennium.

The Committee's Chairwoman said 10 years had passed since Ireland had presented its initial report to the Committee, in February 1989. The situation today was very different from then. The unemployment rate for women in 1989 had been 18.6 per cent; now it was 11.25 per cent. In 1989, women had represented 30.1 per cent of the labour force; today that figure was 40 per cent.

On the other hand, she continued, some things had not changed. She hoped the fourth report would reveal progress from the implementation of programmes and polices. The Committee's final comments would be conveyed in its report to the General Assembly's fifty-fourth session. She hoped the result of the dialogue and the comments in the report would be broadly distributed throughout Ireland.

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